ST. GEORGE – Three candidates vying to represent Utah House District 75 introduced themselves at a meeting of the Dixie Republican Forum Tuesday. Each is seeking to claim the seat currently held by Rep. Don Ipson, who filed to run for Senate District 29. Sen. Steve Urquhart, who currently represents the district, announced his intent to retire from the Senate earlier this year.
Ipson, who also attended the forum, gave a quick recap of the year’s recently wrapped up legislative session.
Approximately 1,250 bills were filed in the 2016 Legislature with 475 ultimately passing, Ipson said. Among the measures that passed were those related to education funding.
“We worked on some issues for Dixie State University. We got a physician assistant program funded in conjunction with the University of Utah,” Ipson said. “I think that with the medical growth that’s occurring in our community, that is phenomenal.”
The Legislature allocated $1.5 million to the physician assistant program. A new business building set for the campus of Southern Utah University was also approved.
“And as you know, I’ve filed to run for senate. That’s opened up my House seat, and it’s brought some attention,” Ipson said as he noted the three men seated nearby who want his current position.
The candidates gathered included Walt Brooks, president of a software company; rancher and small business owner Slade Hughes; and businessman Steve Kemp.
The candidates largely agreed upon three issues related to public lands, promoting the idea that the government closest to the people governs the best versus public land being overseen by outsiders who have no personal stake in the community.
Each candidate said the state should manage public lands and while state control is supported, one of the candidates said lands management should be even more tightly controlled.
“State control is better than federal control, but county control is better than state control,” Hughes said. “I believe those in Washington County can manage Washington County’s land better than Salt Lake City can manage Washington County’s lands.”
The candidates also voiced support for the state’s proposed lawsuit against the federal government over the management of public lands.
“Public education is the most important thing the state does,” Kemp said, adding he believes Utah does more for students with the funding it has than any other state. “I believe it needs to continue to be a very important priority for the Legislature.”
Like the other candidates, Kemp said he believes that the closer education is to home, the better and more efficient it will be.
“I know better how to educate my children than someone in Washington, D.C.,” Kemp said, “So I think at least at the state level, we need to keep the decisions here in the state of Utah… where the decision-making can be regulated by the people.”
While the state’s education system does well with the money it is allocated, Brooks said, he believes the primary individuals responsible for a child’s education are first the parents, then the student, then the education system.
Though Brooks, Hughes and Kemp agreed the county needs to find additional water resources, Brooks wasn’t as open to looking at the Lake Powell Pipeline as the others. He said other options need to be considered.
Brooks said he recently learned that Las Vegas is seeking to pipe water in from the Great Basin region. He said the project would be very expensive for Nevada when a cheaper alternative might be offered that could benefit both Washington County and Las Vegas.
“The suggestion was: so why don’t we exchange with Nevada, our rights for their rights?” Brooks said.
Instead of attempting to build a 140-mile pipeline from Lake Powell at a proposed cost of $1.3 billion or more, why not simply trade water rights? Nevada, which receives water from the Colorado River, could gain some of Utah’s rights to the water in exchange for water rights in the Great Basin area. Building a pipeline into Washington County from the Great Basin area would be less expensive, he said.
“Before we stamp a yes or no on one of these options, we need to do some more research on what is available to bring the water down to St. George,” Brooks said.
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